The Little Stranger

By SARAH WATERS

Sarah Waters made her name as the writer of erotic “lesbo-Victorian romps” that effortlessly straddle the worlds of literary and genre fiction. Set in rural Warwickshire just after the Second World War, The Little Stranger is her fifth novel, the first with a male narrator, Dr. Faraday. We meet the doctor at Hundreds Hall, a former grand structure now wasting away, and home to the Ayreses for close to two centuries. Members of the landed gentry now fallen to ruin, the Ayreses — Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, Caroline and Roderick — seem steeped in a bygone, gentler age. Called upon to examine the housemaid, Dr Faraday finds himself strangely drawn to the dilapidated house, where his own mother used to work as a maid 30 years ago. What begins as mild fascination with the house and its residents will transform itself into something more pronounced as Dr. Faraday scrambles to make sense of the strange happenings that begin to haunt Hundreds. Unexplained marks appear on the walls, fires start on their own accord, and footsteps break the silence of unoccupied rooms. Acting both as doctor and confidant, Dr. Faraday’s life becomes closely entwined with the Ayreses, even as a string of greater tragedies descend on the Hundreds. This is quintessential Waters territory — involving madness, suicide, and an arguable murder — perfected over the rather steep arc of her work. Dripping with psychological suspense, The Little Stranger keeps the reader guessing on whether it is an atmospheric horror story or a macabre murder mystery right to the end.